Project managers have a lot to take care of on a construction project.
There are a lot of technical components to project management, and simply managing the schedule, costs, and quality of project can be a difficult enough job as it is.
If I had to summarize what I see as my primary job is as a project manager, its completing a project while managing the client’s comfort with the process.
That first part is obvious. That last part may sound unusual. But it makes sense if you think about it. You’re hired to manage a project because your client lacks the knowledge, skill, or time to do it on their own. Making sure they’re on board and comfortable during the process is part of good customer service.
You may have done projects like this dozens, or even hundreds of times before. But this could be your client’s first experience with undertaking a major project. They likely have a lot at risk and they’re counting on you to do a good job. You’ll also be counting on them to make design decisions, address cost and schedule changes, and generally collaborate with you throughout the project. There’s no two ways about it: project management is stressful for both builder and client. While you’ll try your best to keep the client tuned in to all the project goings-on, sooner or later there is going to be conflict.
The size and severity of the conflict will vary project-to-project and industry-to-industry. Some projects get along with almost no conflict and perhaps only a few minor disagreements, while others end in court. Conflict isn’t something that can be avoided 100% every time, and it may be necessary to draw hard lines.
So What Can I Do About It?
While I’ll don’t recommend going into a project with the expectation of conflict, nor do I recommend viewing your client as an adversary, it’s important to know that conflicts can arise and what you can do to best prepare for them. This is where the project record comes in.
In project management, a project record refers to a collection of documents, files, and other materials generated throughout the life cycle of a project. These records serve as an official record of the project’s progress, decisions made, lessons learned, and final outcomes.
The project record is essential for maintaining transparency, tracking progress, facilitating communication, and ensuring that all stakeholders have access to the necessary information.
Project Records Can Include:
- Project charter: This is the official document that authorizes the project and outlines its objectives, scope, stakeholders, and high-level requirements.
- Project management plan: This document outlines the project’s scope, objectives, schedule, budget, quality requirements, risk management approach, and other essential information.
- Project schedule: The schedule shows the planned timeline for completing tasks and achieving project milestones.
- Budget and financial documents: These records include cost estimates, financial plans, and expense reports, which help track project costs and ensure they stay within budget.
- Risk register: This document lists potential risks, their likelihood, potential impact, and planned mitigation strategies.
- Meeting minutes and agendas: These documents record the discussions, decisions, and action items from project meetings.
- Status reports: Regular status updates provide information on the project’s progress, achievements, risks, and issues that need to be addressed.
- Change requests and change logs: These records document any changes to the project scope, schedule, or budget and track their approval and implementation.
- Communication records: This includes emails, memos, and other correspondence among project team members, stakeholders, and clients.
- Lessons learned: This document captures insights, best practices, and areas for improvement identified during the project to inform future initiatives.
- Project closeout report: This report summarizes the project’s performance, outcomes, and lessons learned, providing a final evaluation of its success.
Note: On many construction projects, the project charter and aspects of the project management plan are contained within the project contract agreement. These documents represent the baseline agreement between the client and the contractor outlining what is to be completed, to what standard, and on what timeline. Over the project, the details of these documents may change via change orders, clarifications, or other documents. But its beneficial to have, as part of the record, the starting expectations, and a record of all changes to those expectations.
So What Can I Do About It?
If your project is small enough, many of these documents from the list above may not exist formally. I know many projects, for instance, that don’t have a risk register or regular status reports. But the information typically captured in these documents should exist somewhere in the project record. Status reports could be replaced by meeting minutes for a monthly project update, as an example.
Keep Everything In Order
Maintaining an organized and comprehensive project record is crucial for effective project management. It allows you, as a project managers to monitor progress, make informed decisions, and ensure that all stakeholders stay informed and aligned with the project’s goals. Additionally, project records can serve as valuable references for future projects, for auditing purposes, or when conflict arises.
The project record serves as the official history of a project, and it is essential for ensuring that everyone involved in the project is aware of what has been agreed upon, what has been accomplished, and what needs to be done. It’s a key tool to understand what happen during the project, to track the changes, and to resolve disputes if any. Changes may occur throughout a project, and the documentation and dissemination of those changes to all relevant stakeholders can help avoid miscommunications and prevent unnecessary delays.
One of the main reasons why protecting the project record is so important is that it helps to ensure compliance with the terms of the contract. When all of the documents and information related to a project are properly protected, it is easy to see whether or not the work that was completed is in line with the requirements specified in the contract. Your schedule, your quality documentation, your status reports, and even your invoices will act as a log of the work completed throughout the project. These documents become useful records you can reference during misunderstandings about what was expected and what has been delivered.
If the record is clear and complete, it can even help prevent disputes and ensure that the project is completed on time and within budget.
So How Do I Do This?
I haven’t seen a lot of resources discussing the project record, but I don’t think I’ve seen any that describe how to build and maintain one. So here we go.
Establish the Baseline
The first step to establishing the project record should be to ensure you have the documents outlined in the section above. Ideally, you have a contract or a project charter that is agreed upon by both the contractor and the client. This is the baseline expectation for the work to be done. If you’re a junior project manager working for a large construction company, you may not be directly involved in the creation of this document. But you should still be familiar with it. Reading the contract is one of the first things I do on any project.
Some of the above-listed items are created over the course of the project, so you should have a plan to produce them. Status updates, schedule updates, quality reports, meeting minutes, lessons learned, and closeout reports (including as-builts) should be on your radar.
Share your Progress
Your goal is to document and share with your client all of your progress and decision-making throughout the project.
On a regular basis (often monthly, though occasionally weekly for smaller projects), you should be updating your client on the work completed since the previous report. Be honest about the progress you’ve made. Record any impediments you encountered, and state your goals for the next reporting period. While this is ultimately for your client, you’ll appreciate having a record you can look back on.
Inform of Changes
If you encounter an unexpected condition, give notice to the client as soon as possible. Never, and I mean never, do unplanned work without running it by the client first.
Respond in Kind
If the client reaches out in writing: RESPOND.
Respond using the same method of communication they used.
I can’t stress this one enough. The client is contributing to the project record with their correspondence and a lack of response from you will reflect poorly.
Sometimes a response to a change is an urgent matter, and as I’ve stated in a previous post, there’s no such thing as an urgent email, so you’re going to want to pick up the phone to discuss the change. But you must follow up with a letter or email to complete the project record.
Ideally, all records shared with the client are available to both parties in a public repository. You don’t need to give the client access to your internal filing system or your private emails, but it helps to have a shared drive, file cabinet, or other such place where both parties can access the most accurate, up-to-date project files. Maintaining common understanding is key to keeping project flow.
Clients who know what is going on and are comfortable with the process are far less likely the slow or halt a project. So keep the client in the loop as much as you can. Confusion leads to delays and delays cost money.
Demonstrating that all parties had the same access to information will help reduce confusion, but can also benefit you in the case of claims.
I was on a project that went to claim over a severe weather event. The project lost a lot more time than we had planned for and ended up running long.
We had kept detailed records of the weather throughout the stormy season, the work we were able and unable to do during that period, the reports we issued to the client documenting our work, as well as quality reports outlining how the weather affected our ability to meet quality expectations. Even with all of this, the project went to arbitration. Clients have to look out for their own interests, and even though the weather was no one’s fault, the client did not take the increased costs lightly. Sometimes, conflict can’t be avoided, but our detailed records benefitted us during the arbitration process.
What about claims?
Protecting the project record is essential for the preservation of rights and claims. In case of any disputes, an accurate and complete project record will be the key evidence to support the claim. It’s crucial that the records are accurate and authentic, that they’re protected from any tampering or alteration, and that they’re accessible to the parties who need them.
This is one of the reasons I recommend using email and a shared file system. Modern technology allows for the creation of a project timeline. Its not just a matter of what is in the project record, but when it entered.
Using digital tools, such as project management software, to keep all the project-related documents in one central location, where it can be easily accessed, shared, and tracked by the relevant parties adds trust and transparency to the project. This not only helps to ensure that all of the necessary information is easily accessible but also provides an additional level of security, as the records can be protected by passwords and other security measures.
So there it is. Protecting the project record is an essential aspect of contracting.
It helps to ensure compliance with the terms of the contract, prevent misunderstandings, and preserve the rights and claims of the parties involved. By using digital tools and properly storing and organizing project-related documents and information, it’s possible to protect the project record and ensure that the project is completed on time and within budget. If you have any thoughts to share about protecting the project budget, feel free to share below!
Until next time,